Policing Shanghai: 1927-1937.

Author:Tsai, Kellee S.

In Policing Shanghai, 1927-1937, Frederic Wakeman presents a magisterial slice of modern Chinese history which takes his readers from the Chinese Nationalists' strategies for modernization and national renewal to Shanghai's seedier world of gangs, casinos, brothels and narcotics syndicates. The decade of 1927 to 1937 emerges as a critical juncture in Chinese history, when the Nationalist party (the Kuomintang or KMT) faced the multiple objectives of state- and nation-building, recovering sovereignty over foreign concessions, eradicating the Communist threat to Nationalist rule and, ultimately, thwarting further Japanese expansion. At a time when the country was fragmented by extraterritoriality and weakened by opium addiction, the Nationalists viewed their administrative efforts in the Chinese Special Municipality of Shanghai as a litmus test for their ability to govern the nation as a whole, and an opportunity to demonstrate their legitimacy to the world. The KMT chose a dynamic but challenging laboratory: Shanghai embodied a confluence of cosmopolitan popular culture, social pathologies and, of particular relevance, an array of sometimes competing networks of surveillance and coercive institutions. Although the fate of Nationalist endeavors is well known -- Japanese invasion in 1937, widespread corruption, and defeat by the communists a decade later -- Wakeman succeeds in reconstructing the final years of Nationalist rule without succumbing to an overdetermined shadow of the future, which often characterizes analyses of the period. In 1927, high hopes were placed on the professionalization of Shanghai's Chinese police, the Public Security Bureau (PSB), and its proficiency in combatting crime. Although though it is impossible to do justice to Wakeman's empirical richness in summary form, the first part of this review outlines the organization of the book and traces the development of key themes. The next section comments briefly on the book's methodological and empirical contribution. The last part anticipates potential reactions by theoretically oriented readers; it also suggests some implications of the impressive historiography for fundamental analytical issues in social theory, China area studies and political science. In short, the book offers a fascinating synthesis of archival sources which may rekindle theoretical debates in a progressive manner.

Aside from the first and last sections, Policing Shanghai is organized more thematically than chronologically. The initial chapters set forth the context of Nationalist aspirations in Shanghai. The narcotics, gambling and prostitution industries of the city were attributed to the extraterritoriality provisions of unequal treaties established in the nineteenth century Under foreign rule, "Shanghai had become a cesspit of corruption," with notoriously high rates of crime and opium addiction. The Nationalists thus viewed their mission as eradicating corruption and establishing law and order in portions of the city under Chinese administration. Chiang Kai-shek intended for Shanghai to serve as a "base area" for fulfilling Sun Yat-sen's vision of national construction. Unlike the late Qing efforts at centralizing national police administration which mimicked the strong statist model of Meiji Japan, the KMT's inspiration drew from the examples of police...

To continue reading